Michi Sarmiento - "El Sonerito" (Aqui Los Bravos! The Best of Michi Sarmiento y su Combo Bravo 1967-77)
Compilers Roberto Gyemant, Quantic and Miles Cleret break ranks with earlier Columbia compilations for Soundway in favor of an artist specific survey on Aqui Los Bravos! The set distills the discography of saxophonist/bandleader Michi Sarmiento, whose father Climaco was one the Discos Fuentes label’s popular and prolific arrangers. A decade-spanning 16 cuts reveal an “apple to tree” proximity between sire and progeny. Sarmiento took tumescent electric bass lines — the anchor of his country’s cumbia — as a starting point on many of his dancefloor-ready singles and merged it with to Cuban song forms of descargas and guaguancos. Nuyorican boogaloos and the fertile field of Fania-fomented salsa were other sources ripe for appropriation.
Sarmiento’s vibrant charts often convey a powerful density in their colorful layering of percussion and horns. The common yield is a galvanizing tension ideal for frenzied rug-cutting. Soloists are frequent, but also prone to economy in their spare bursts between simmering and ebullient ensemble passages. The plump bass feature on the title track and the electric piano acrobatics on “Vamos Negra” are early examples of Sarmiento’s playful poking at conventional dance forms. “El Negro Y Ray” shifts from an opening dominated by clarion cowbell to see-sawing violin. Electric guitar dipped in a coating of jellied reverb and complemented by hard-percolating percussion accentuates the action on “A Los Sicodelicos” and “Caprichosa.” Sarimento’s own solos are relatively few, but when his tenor does peek out, as on “La Vaca Nueva” and “Son Retoson,” the poetry laced through his pithy lines proffers nothing but pleasure.
A cadre of vocalists — including Discos Fuentes luminary Joe Arroyo (R.I.P.) — share singing duties throughout, but in nearly all cases their roles are secondary to the preservation of the aggressive beats. Lyrical content occasionally undermines musical momentum, as on the monotonous “Cumbia Raja” and the set closing “Purificacion,” the latter’s syllabic excess proving a cumbersome mouthful when weighed against the throbbing streamlined rhythm that propels the tune.
Collectively breezing by in well under an hour, the tracks as sequenced provide an edifying overview of Sarmiento’s talents that simultaneously solicits scrutiny and sustains a celebratory spirit.